Equanimity IV: Find your truth in whatever you do!

Dave Blazer’s meditations on The Way

Although I was officially now a shihan, a sensei in my own right, sensei Cain continued to advise me on the finer points of my personal practice and methods of instruction. I visited him often and received on-going lessons on karate-do, and life. Cain calmly accepted the course of his own life. The world of our dojo members was rocked by his sudden death from complications relating to his kidney transplant.

Near the end he extracted a promise from me to continue to support hanshi Nakazato for the rest of his life, and to help sensei Cain’s remaining students in their practice. His passing took the wind from my sails. Cain was my teacher and my good friend. I was determined to fulfill his wishes.

Then, Cain’s senior students started drifting apart, but still came together occasionally to train. I was still teaching some of sensei Cain’s students but now other, higher ranked sempai were stepping in to fill the void Cain left:

Cain was my teacher and my good friend. I was determined to fulfill his wishes.

Kyoshi, 7th dan Sam Ahtye, sensei of the San Francisco Shorin-ryu Shorin-kan Kumemura dojo, (named in honor of the Chinese community’s connection with Okinawa since the 14th century) held a memorial workout to help us regain our equilibrium after our loss.

In bushido, the code of samurai caste, sensei Cain frequently quoted Miyamoto Musashi:

Generally speaking, the Way of the warrior is resolute acceptance of death.

Cain contrasted this with his own example:

The Way must also include resolute acceptance of the life we are given to live.

After my brief, though rewarding last meeting with hanshi Nakazato, which came at the annual El Centro camp in California in 2004, I realized my health was suffering, limiting my practice.

The annual El Centro camp in California

I could work out in the morning, but then I would have to go to my room and pack ice on my shoulders and back because of the pain I felt from arthritis and the old injuries sustained. Half days were all I could manage, and at times I had difficulty standing with my arms extended for any period of time. I decided to stop hard training in favor of trying to feel better.

I would have to go to my room and pack ice on my shoulders and back because of the pain

In 2005 I found a highly qualified teacher of Chinese i-chuan (mind or intent boxing) at the Consolidated Chinese Benevolent Society in Portland. His name was sifu Gregory Fong and I studied with him for eight years, until he too died in 2014.

IChuan was my first serious outing into Chinese martial arts, and it was a very interesting contrast to the Okinawan martial art that I was more familiar with. I was able to revert to being a student, which I enjoyed very much.

Sifu Fong’s approach was less physically intense, but no less precise or difficult. He was good at keeping students in the moment, constantly adjusting his method of teaching in order to keep our interest focused on the present action.

Sifu Gregory Fong, photo Dave Blazer

Following the precepts of sifu Fong, I can still work on balance, muscle tone and coordination without injuring myself. I-chuan practice is very personal and introspective. It is more focused on individual development and less focused on the quality of a group performance. The exception is public demonstrations.

There was no philosophical discussion at all. Sifu Fong never talked about abstract concepts like equanimity.

When hanshi passed I felt my giri had been fulfilled to sensei Cain and hanshi Nakazato.

Then Hanshi, judan (10th rank) Shugoro Nakazato passed away in 2016 at the age of 96. He never wrote a book about his experiences. Master Nakazato’s son, Minoru Nakazato, became the president and chief instructor of Shorin-ryu Shorin-kan after his father’s death. When hanshi passed I felt my giri had been fulfilled to sensei Cain and hanshi Nakazato.

In 2016 I retired from regular karate practice. I still do what I can to retain some of my knowledge of karate, but now I move around for my own self development. I no longer have active students.

After so many years studying karate, did I find equanimity? It’s still a work in progress, but perhaps it can be defined:

In Buddhism, equanimity (Pali: upekkhā; Sanskrit: upekṣā) is one of the four sublime attitudes and is considered: Neither a thought nor an emotion, it is rather the steady conscious realization of reality’s transience. It is the ground for wisdom and freedom and the protector of compassion and love.

I asked Dr. Randall Havas, professor of philosophy at Willamette University, about equanimity. He observed:

“I would be inclined to say that equanimity is produced by or is the result of such things as a “steady conscious realization of reality’s transience.” Of course, it is also true that equanimity is probably required for a proper realization of reality’s transcendence; they reinforce each other.

There’s a huge literature on the so-called “immeasurables” or “Brahma viharas” (“divine abidings”). I guess I like Stephen Batchelor’s versions the best. He focuses on the idea of “vihara” — which means “dwelling” (monasteries are called “viharas”).  I don’t know what part of speech it is in Pali, but the basic idea is that it’s a way of living, a human form of life in which …. in the case of equanimity, one isn’t caught up in/identified with transient phenomena.

The difficult thing about the notion is that people tend to associate it with stoical indifference, but that can’t be right, I think. Sometimes people use the notion of being philosophical in this sense: your dog has just died, and and someone commends you for being “philosophical” about it, meaning that you appeared somehow abstract, indifferent, to be seeing it all from a very high altitude.

I do believe that I have experienced true equanimity,

That is, indeed, what Greek thought sometimes advocated as the path to peace: increasing detachment. And maybe that’s what some Buddhists think as well. But the idea or ideal seems to many to be rather a complete immersion in phenomena without the aforementioned identification. So: non-attachment, not de-tachment.

The thought is that one gets attached only to what seems like it’s worth getting attached to.  And given the motivation for attachment — roughly, fear of death/annihilation — one tends to attach only to those things that seem to be permanent.  But, damn it all!, nothing is permanent.

And then the thought is that seeing the “emptiness” of all things is supposed to make room for the compassion that is squelched by always looking out for number one.

Sounds good on paper.”

I do believe that I have experienced true equanimity. But as professor Havas said, it’s more like a feeling that arises in certain circumstances than a mental place where you can choose to go, or dwell. It’s volatile and temporary.

The challenges we face when we try to find balance arise from within and without. After reading my working definition of equanimity, Doug Cort, a clinical psychologist, and the Director of the psychology training program at Adventist Health, commented. He said that to find equanimity:

I would add the need for balance in behavior and relationships. Behavior includes biological balance sustained by diet, exercise, sleep and communication. The latter entails risking being vulnerable. It also means in some way being attractive to others by having qualities of kindness, compassion, and generosity.

This brings into clear focus the internal/external nature of the equation. To reach equanimity, you need a well-balanced, healthy mind and body coupled to a high degree of receptivity. You need to be open to people, situations, and events.

Temper your impulsiveness, which is triggered by anticipation.

Don’t think of your chosen actions in terms of their possible consequences. Concentrate on your goals. Move forward resolutely. Have an open mind. Let go of hesitation and doubt. Temper your impulsiveness, which is triggered by anticipation. Language, with all its power and subtlety, fails us. It is the body that connects the mind to the world through movement. As Ram Dass said: Be here now.

All the same, I realize that what I say doesn’t always make sense to my students, instead the individual associations the listener has with the words I use gets in the way of communication. Are they really hearing what I’m saying? The causes of these misunderstandings fascinate me. I continue to investigate this aspect of the teaching and learning process.

I have reacted to my experiences in life as they arise, bidden or unbidden. I have dealt with them; sometimes I learned from them. Sometimes not. Sometimes I was rash, on other occasions I over analyzed everything. There is a Middle Way out there, but my middle way is not yours.

We can’t find out who we are by living our lives through other people. Emulation of others only takes us so far. To get struck by the lightening of insight, we have to get out into the rain of experience. Personal involvement is imperative. Your truth is not to be found in the history of others. Their targets are not in your sights. We only need to follow other people’s paths until we see our own, unique path.

There is a Middle Way out there, but my middle way is not yours

If only you really knew what you wanted! No one else can guide you the entire way. But if you don’t know what your goal is, you’ll never reach it. Then, when you arrive at your goal and look back at the path you took to reach it, you may feel foolish. Your real goal, when discovered in full, will probably be a surprise.

When we set out on our quest to be something, we are seeking to change and acquire desirable skills and abilities. So, we look for a vehicle to take us towards this new state of being. For nearly 50 years my vehicle was karate. It can be hard work. One of my long-time favorite truisms I use as a guide has been Robert Heinlein’s T.A.N.S.T.A.A.F.L. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

Sensei Dave Blazer and Sensei Mike Moya in action

That applies heavily to the costs of a decades-long period of consistent, rigorous martial arts training coupled with the study of material related to the development of the desirable associated mindset. To be technical for a moment, in its totality, karate training is an extensive, in-depth course of operant conditioning which alters your self-image, your personal subconscious system of object relations, your priorities and your relationships. Karate for me was a system of defined stresses, intelligently applied, which over time facilitated my adaptation to a new reality for my body and mind, and my very sense of place in the world. Karate required a serious commitment. It was a high personal priority and it involved an enormous expenditure of time and effort.

I use as a guide has been Robert Heinlein’s T.A.N.S.T.A.A.F.L. There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

There are physical injuries. Karate happens in a high speed, energetic environment. Collisions occur, tempers flare. My years of effort have come at a cost. Here I would like to point out that, if the vehicle you have chosen to help you reach your own goal is very physical, remember that one of the central concepts of martial arts training is self-defense. Don’t hurt yourself.

I would suggest that anyone looking for deeply significant changes through martial arts training, who is willing to put in the kind of work necessary, carefully consider the consequences of living continuously in the state of steady conscious realization and alertness discussed above. Is that what you want?

Hanshi Nakazato’s parting gift to shihan Dave Blazer, with his signature in Japanese calligraphy

Aside from adrenalin generating surprises, ‘This too shall pass.’ is a phrase from the Arabian Nights that encompasses nearly all of life. It’s an attitude of equanimity. But, in my experience, adopting an attitude of non-attachment can dull happiness, comfort and joy, as well as mitigate disappointment, discomfort and sadness. In the absence of attachment, the now is always fleeting, never at rest.

I don’t feel that I can tell you what you need to do in order to stay on your path. I don’t know about you or your true goals. If you are young and looking for guidance, instead of reading this, start on your journey of a thousand miles. Take a single step.

Success, if it comes, may hinge on the direction in which you choose to take that first step. Try to see your goal clearly. I try to help other seekers of this Way of Life when I can, but I am now more focused on my own direction in my senior years, trying to play my end game well.

I’m sure that my scattered approach to life was caused by an untreated attention deficit disorder. It could be that I’m just wired a little differently. I have always had a problem finding an end to a story. This outing has been no exception.

Master Nakazato’s last message to me, which I received in a letter, included his wish that I would find my truth in karate-do. I believe he was more interested in my finding of that truth than in the practice of karate do. Karate was my vehicle for discovery, not the discovery itself.

I want to know everything, forever outward, never finding the end. For me, the adventure continues.

Buy the ticket, take the ride” as the late, great Dr. Hunter S. Thompson said.

Dave Blazer is a retired financial securities industry manager and technical expert with a life long interest in Asian philosophy and martial arts. He is also a struggling left handed Blues Guitarist. He served as a cryptographic and systems management technician in the U.S. Navy for nine years, and attended the Dominican College of San Rafael, CA. He was involved with the securities industry for nearly 30 years.

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